The Human Zoo (Le Jardin de Agronomie Tropicale)

No really, a Human Zoo. To show off the colonial might of France a human zoo was built. It replicated, rather superficially, the lives and homes of persons indigenous to Senegal, The Congo, Morroco, Algiers, Tunisia, Indochine, and Madagascar. People were brought from these colonies and put on display in the zoo. Pretty messed up. But irresistible to my imagination.

Originally,  Le Jardin Agronomie Tropicale was created to collect, cultivate and experiment on plants found in the French colonies. In 1907, the French Society of Colonization got the bright idea to create exhibits–replicas of the homes inhabited by the indigenous peoples of the colonies and populated these exhibits with real people dressed in their native garb. The colonial exhibition in which the people were displayed took place from May to October 1907.

Paris was not the only place where human beings were put on display like zoo animals. England and Brooklyn, New York had such exhibits. As late as 2005, Germany had a human zoo exhibit, parading Africans alongside baboons…

I have gone through, it seems, hundreds of photographs and read detailed accounts until I was able to conflate what I found into a fictional experience witnessed by one of the ancient beings in my novel. He relates the story to another character who, being rich white and, dare I say, privileged, had nothing in common with the people held in the zoo. It turns out, however, that there is a thread of humanity that connects us all. Sometimes, that thread must be held up to the light at certain angles to be seen.

I used this photo as a writing prompt to construct my story about the Congolese exhibit.

In my series, Scions of Darkness, the so called Scions are interdimensional creatures who are drawn to the abandoned beauty of forgotten edifices. Since they have more planes of existence than our meager three dimensions, Scions are able to make a home or create an institution in any abandoned place.

My second novel, Unto the Mother, Scions use the human zoo as a hospital. The Morrocan Pavillion is the setting for a hospital scene.

On the day of my visit, the wire fence surrounding the pavilion was torn down. And, now being in the habit of trespassing, I went inside

I had imagined steps leading down to the crypts and, to my surprise, I found the very steps my mind had conjured.

I spent the rest of my afternoon at the Indochine exhibit where I could sit more comfortably.  With my back against the building, I could picnic and write all while hoping no rats came from under the building to join me. Thank goodness they kept to their hiding places.

That’s all for now.